Antichrist – Lars Von Trier – DVD – So much has already been said: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Defoe are a couple with an only child, one fatal eve they are so obliviously ensconced in the throes of sexual ecstasy that they fail to notice their only child (in the other room) playing perilously close to a window-from which he falls to his death). Willem Defoe (who happens to be a therapist) takes the deeply depressed/distressed and mourning Charlotte to a cabin in the woods to try and help her through her traumas. Strangely enough, a weekend away in an isolated cabin in the middle of a foreboding forest, does not work a charm. Madness, theories of genocide, the menace of nature and much darkness ensue.
I watched this film in bizarre circumstances, slumped in the small hours of the morning, quite drunk, quite alone and quite disorientated (a kindly, equally inebriated, friend popped the DVD on, declaring Antichrist to be a suitable choice, before retiring to sleep in another room – away from his dramatic ‘suitable’ choice). Perhaps not the best viewing scenario – and yet, in some ways it was an appropriate disposition with which to see Von Trier’s tense tale of grief and pain. Antichrist was a film that I had wanted to see for a long time, but, due to the media hysteria surrounding its controversial scissors scene, there was never a sober moment when I elected to muster the courage to endure said scene (I mean…I like Charlotte Gainsbourg…Science of Sleep is beautiful, she herself is beautiful…and somehow, well, it was not appealing). Firstly, in reference to that too frequently mentioned scene, it is not only a tiny part of the film, but also a part that is visualized without any of the confrontational brutality that many reviews would have you believe.
Placed alongside Von Trier’s earlier works, Antichrist, contains some of the most genuinely beautiful sequences and photographic splendor of his career-moving far from his original sparse Dogme 95 aesthetics. Here we see slow motion, paired with surreal effects and even a prologue-like start to the film in dramatic black and white. Having seen Meloncholia, Antichrist feels like the beginning of Von Trier’s developing a more visually indulgent palette. I don’t say that as a negative point, for Antichrist has some genuinely arresting moments of impressive and memorable drama. There is one sequence in particular, in which Willem Defoe’s character leaves the cabin and suddenly the camera slows everything down to spectacular effect: we see a shower of acorns twirling in graceful spirals, each one gently brushing past his hair, while in the foreground grass and weeds writhe like parasitic limbs. Far too little has been made of the breath taking craftsmanship of some of the film’s images, eclipsed instead by misleading diatribes of cartoon controversy.
That is not to say the film is not without fault. Alongside Meloncholia, Antichrist feels underdeveloped in both its structure and the chacterisation of both Charlotte and Willem (it is a two person film…and although their performances are intensely committed, I felt the need for more emotional elaboration- with would have better justified the spiraling madness), also in the film’s opening sequence Von Trier seems perhaps a little too trigger happy with his new found cinematic beauty. In the opening scene we witness Willem and Charlotte having intensely passionate sex (all in monochrome slow-mo), oblivious to their only child as he tumbles to his death out of the window. The sequence, although technically impressive, feels over fetishized to the point of evoking a smug pseudo arthouse car advert. However, overall a very interesting film that deserved none of the unfair onslaught of critical exaggeration (although this obviously boosted interest). Although Von Trier courts controversy and has often been seen as a prankster, I feel too many are too quick to overplay this card and forget the fact he is making genuinely interesting, individual and uniquely powerful films. Although Antichrist embodies an important development in Von Trier’s style and provides a handful of astonishing sequences, the sparse script and structure ultimately denies the film the possibility of being anything other than sporadically interesting. When combined with a heavy handed symbolism that lumbers through ‘femmicide’ (a thesis on female genocide) and the threat of nature, a dedication to Tarkovsky before the end credits, seems a presumptuous and misguided reference to make (as heavy handed as the film’s symbolism). It is this, far more than the infamous ‘clitoral mutilation’ that should have drawn more derision (although there was an outcry at Cannes, the film’s violence soon eclipsed this reference in more general reviews). So…in conclusion, yes it may polarize people, yes it may be flawed and suggest a clumsy arrogance – BUT, it is an arresting, dramatic and, at times visually impressive, film. 7/10